This Week’s Best Albums: September 11, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: September 11, 2012

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases for This Week’s Best Albums, an eclectic set of reviews presenting exceptional music.

David Byrne & St. Vincent: Love This Giant (4AD)


David Byrne has one of the most recognizable voices in music, ranking somewhere between Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe. No doubt this is why everyone wants the former Talking Heads front-man to guest on their records. Dirty ProjectorsArcade Fire, Jherek Bischoff — they’ve all taken advantage of the static friction of that back-of-the-mouth tenor.

But Love This Giant, Byrne’s collaboration with St. Vincent, a woman who’s known more for her multi-instrumentalist abilities than her voice, is the first full-length he’s co-written with anyone other than Brian Eno.

Right away, Love This Giant sounds like a David Byrne project. On album opener and lead single “Who,” a toe-tapper that still manages to be rhythmically complex, the guitars and horns are characteristically crisp, and the tracks that follow are equally smart, equally bouncy. The aforementioned horns, arranged by Tony Finno, actually end up stealing the show, as their dry, funky flourishes knock Byrne’s voice to second place for most distinctive sound, which is less a critique and more a statement of wonder.

With a well-timed release, Love This Giant is further proof that Byrne is actually qualified to write a 352-page book titled How Music Works, which comes out tomorrow from McSweeney's.

- Timothy A. Schuler

Solos: Beast of Both Worlds (Joyful Noise)

"Carpe Diem"

It may seem strange that the members of Hella have gotten poppier and poppier since the height of their impenetrability from 2005 to 2007. Long-time fans, though, will recognize a penchant for melody amid complexity that dates back to its full-length debut in 2002.

Solos is a new project from Hella guitarist and cofounder Spencer Seim and avant-folk artist / temporary Hella singer Aaron Ross. Following the overt melodies of Seim's synth-core project sBACH, Solos is a jaunt into slightly more avant-pop territory, combining Led Zeppelin-ish acoustic rock with psych-pop and Seim's pounding, distinctive beats.

Ross's vocal harmonies work overtime, and his contributions help to evoke the folksiest, most Polyphonic Spree moments with heavy, trippy pop. And though the Hella and sBACH influences are minimal, Seim leaves his imprint all over, whether via jack-rabbit kick beats and guitar hammer-ons ("Schooled Fools"), full-on riff climaxes ("Crackin' the Modern Age"), or twisting rock rhythms and swampy distortions ("The Darwin Blues" and "They Don't Care About Us").

Refreshing in style, Beast of Both Worlds has the potential to be one of the year's best pop-rock albums. It definitely has the best title.

- Scott Morrow

Calexico: Algiers (Anti-)


Going on four years without a proper album, Arizona-based Calexico is back with Algiers, the band’s sixth full-length. Recorded in New Orleans, the album bares the band’s familiar incarnation of modern-day Americana — but not since 2003’s Feast of Wire has Calexico been so immediately accessible.

Swarms of strings, horns, shakers, and brush-stroked drumbeats all set the scene of desert-dry, Southwestern lamentations. From lonesome highway dweller “Fortune Teller” to the meandering and mesmerizing title track to the grim and gritty “The Vanishing Mind,” Calexico’s hook-riddled doses of lost and lonesome souls have rarely sounded better.

- Michael Danaher

Beastwars: s/t (Destroy)

"Damn the Sky"

Hailing from New Zealand, Beastwars is a four-piece stoner/sludge-metal outfit that specializes in down-tuned guitars, deep grooves, and gruff wailing. The music isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a fist-pumping, head-banging good time — part Unsane, part old-school Soundgarden, and part High on Fire.

This self-titled debut, released overseas last year, finally is getting its US release and distribution. The album blows away a the mediocre stoner-metal bands who are undeservedly lauded — and who would do well to adopt Beastwars’ mantra to “obey the riff.”

- Scott Morrow

Marco Benevento: TigerFace (The Royal Potato Family)

"This is How it Goes"

The opening two tracks of jam/jazz keyboardist Marco Benevento’s latest record may come as a surprise to those expecting the purely instrumental, piano-driven arrangements that have populated his previous releases. Bubbling synths and danceable rhythms underpin the repeated refrains of Rubblebucket vocalist Kalmia Traver on “Limbs of a Pine,” while an undulating bass line and harpsichord back the singer on lead single “This is How it Goes.” Benevento’s playful pop sensibility remains intact, but the songs mark a striking departure from his older output.

The remainder of the album finds Benevento traversing more familiar territory, pounding away at his amplified acoustic piano, accompanied by the likes of Tortoise’s John McEntire and Mike Gordon of Phish. Strong, repetitious melodies are laid atop drum and bass, often supplemented with strings or one of the composer’s circuit-bent toys.

– Zach Long

The Raveonettes: Observator (Vice)

"She Owns the Streets"

It’s been a decade since The Raveonettes burst on the scene with the fuzzed-out, bat-shit single “Attack of the Ghost Riders,” which immediately established the Danish duo as a force to be reckoned with. Ten years later, the duo is still churning out phantom-esque, granular songs, but with a much different feel.

Observator, the band’s latest effort, finds an older but wiser duo, slowing things down, exploring more structured songwriting, paying great attention to melody and hooks, and diversifying its sound beyond distortion and reverbed clatter. Tracks like “Curse the Night” and “She Owns the Streets” show a band at the height of its powers.

- Michael Danaher

Firewater: International Orange! (Bloodshot)

"A Little Revolution"

Firewater’s Tod Ashley is what you might call a compulsive traveler. Having left his career and Brooklyn home to explore life in Calcutta, Bangkok, and Europe, it’s no surprise that he’d front a band self-described as “world punk.” By taking his roots in punk and incorporating elements of jazz and folk as well as Eastern European traditions, Ashley and company have sought to create sonic harmony in a world in flux.

International Orange! was recorded in Istanbul and Tel Aviv during the Arab Spring. With revolution as a backdrop, the album expresses his own frustrations on tracks like the punk anthem “A Little Revolution” and the growling “Dead Man’s Boots,” meditating on conflict while combining cultures through sound. From the Turkish percussion and Middle Eastern woodwinds on “Glitter Days” to the Mexican banda, ska, and salsa on “Ex-Millionaire Mambo,” disparate influences blend seamlessly from track to track, all layered beneath Ashley’s distinctive snarl.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions:

William Basinski: The Disintegration Loops box set (Temporary Residence, 9/11/12)

Boyfrndz: All Day Party

Buke & Gase: Function Falls digital EP (Brassland)

Cloudeater: Sun and Sidearm reissue

The Helio Sequence: Negotiations (Sub Pop)

NOFX: Self-Entitled (Fat Wreck Chords)

Parenthetical Girls: Privilege, Pt. V: Portrait of a Reputation (Slender Means Society)

Rubblebucket: Oversaturated EP (Sin Duda)

Serpentine Path: s/t (Relapse)